An odd day yesterday, and it’s unsettled me deeply. Firstly, I had a job interview in the afternoon (at Derriford Hospital, natch – got the call to interview an hour after being diagnosed). I’d decided as you know to stop following those tortuous thought-processes between types and grades of cancer, and to wait and see what kind of chap Hunt actually turns out to be.
After the interview I applied for ESA benefit by phone (I have no income other than via Airbnb and can’t work in my usual jobs which are zero hours), but struggled to know what the call taker was after – I kept having to ask him to repeat the question, and he was Scottish, but since I lived there for around 15 years of my life in total that wouldn’t normally be a problem. I somehow just couldn’t tune in.
We got off on the wrong foot, this though due to a more perennial concern – bare naked sexism.
“Title? Mrs, Miss or Ms”
“Well, you haven’t been married?”
“No” where’s this going?
“So then you can’t be Ms, it’s Mrs or Miss, Ms is for divorced.”
“I can assure you I’ve been Ms all my adult life, it’s most certainly Ms”.
“Ah, yes, well you can call yourself what you like, but this form is legal so it has to be right.”
I manage not to say listen here young man.. “Okay, I’m a feminist, and I use the title Ms because I see no reason why I should be identified by my marital status when the same doesn’t apply to men.”
“If you like, but you’re not divorced! If I put that here and it’s wrong, legally, then your benefit might be delayed.”
“I’m Ms, it’s on everything I have; I am and will remain, Ms!”
“Okay, I’ll do what you say, but it should be Miss if you’re not divorced.”
Then we fall up on the advice I’ve received from the Macmillan benefits advisor who was incredibly helpful so I knew what I was entitled to. Essentially, I know I’m not entitled to one of the benefits and was advised to go for ESA, the NI based one.
“The Macmillan they’re nice, yeah, but they are NOT BENEFITS TRAINED!”
“Okay, just write what you think then”. I need a cuppa.
“But I’ll have to ask you the questions, they might sound a bit weird, right, but just a wee yes or no for these.”
And so it went on. How much of the comms fail here was to do with my mental state, how much with Hunt and how much the elision of the DWP culture and an employee with a somewhat antideluvian approach to gender?
All this for £74 a week, a safety net aka pittance on which I have no hope of making ends meet and which I am claiming by dint of having made regular National Insurance payments to the government over decades. He ends with a long and rambling official declaration which includes details of future work assessments for which I will have to attend appointments and also provide a ‘Fit Note’. Ha! That’s really the point isn’t it? This system has been constructed to make me look and feel like a shirker, a fit fake scrounging off the rest of you hard-working families. It’s a fucking travesty. Throughout most of this interview an image of Iain Duncan Smith’s fat, shiny face with 37 quid’s worth of breakfast on expenses dribbling down his chin is lodged in my brain. Incompetent, patronising, spawn of the devil.
Then as if by magic a gorgeous box of iced flower chocolate biscuits arrived from one of my swimming friends. Take that IDS. I know kind and loving people. But what if I didn’t?
So, Mum and I went to the cottage to light the wood burner and finish cleaning for the incoming guests, via Tavistock, where I bought some senna tea and prunes, because the roids are blocking my bottom. I must not, according to my brain tumour surgery guidebook, strain or become constipated. Each time I have a general anaesthetic it’s a full week till I can poo. So best get onto that at once.
The big slump
In my post box, barely palpable among the usual wodge of junk mail, is a letter from Derriford hospital; I read it while I built the fire. It’s a copy of the neurologist’s report from Thursday, and there it was in black and white – the part about lung nodules (will need to be addressed later by oncology) and the probable primary brain lesion, space taking, high grade (she is aware of this). So there is more than a suggestion of both metastasised cancer and a primary brain tumour. A pause in my head and a pause in my breathing. I knew it all, he’d told me, and I’d somehow worked my way back around to unhearing it. So, I lost it with my neighbour over dog shit in front of the cottage, and Mum had to go and apologise (no way could I, but how bad to have to get your Mum to sort your tantrums out for you).
The doctor running my earlier interview called then to tell me I’d been selected to go on to the training stage as a GTA, a developing role where women work in pairs using their own bodies to teach medical students how to do gynae examinations. He mentioned in particular my ‘enthusiasm’ which was partly due to the lunchtime steroid rev, and I was struggling not to leap up and run around the room halfway through. I’m delighted to have moved on with the job, because it’s such an important and interesting role, through which I feel I could do something socially useful. I don’t know that I’ll be able to take it, but I came clean and they were very understanding. I’ll tell them what’s what when I know, and move from there. But I would have understood had they not taken me on. It’s lovely to know that I have something positive to look forward to, maybe, at least.
So a day of ups and downs and surreal interludes. I’m noticing more and more that I’m actually unwell; while I knew there was something wrong, I still had that propensity to explain away, to try eating better, push the exercise a bit. To think I would get better? Now I know that’s not going to help other than to keep my body working as well as it can for now.
I’m less liable to drop everything (thanks roids), I’ve noticed a few minor things that also trouble me. I can’t write very well (the right is my unaffected side) and signing the consent yesterday was an odd experience – my signature is normally big and loose, but it didn’t flow and I wasn’t connected to it. It neither looked nor felt like mine, while I would have recognised the handwriting. Mine but not me. Thinking back, my writing for the proof reading was becoming constrained, and I was crossing out more. So there’s something going on there. The right parietal lobe is where Hunt lurks, and these are all functions associated with this area.
I can no longer text without a concerted effort, and I don’t have the concentration to work out which of my wayward digits is causing the problem. I’m typing this, with lots of mistakes, by slowing down and not using my left pinkie. I need to set up speech recognition, but now have Windows 10 and the thought of having to do gags with some fake humanoid IT geek called Cortana Jo frankly makes me want to weep.